Homework help

Father and son doing homework. (PHOTO: Getty Images)
Father and son doing homework. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

It's a recipe for disaster. You’re exhausted and stressed after a long day at work but now – in between making supper, packing school lunches for tomorrow and a multitude of other niggly chores – you have to do homework with your kids, who are just as tired and grumpy as you are.

So it’s little wonder that tempers often flare.

But surely there must be a better way to tackle this daily task without it always ending in tears?

We consulted experts to come up with an action plan to help you survive the homework drill.

When is the right time?

Early in the afternoon is the best time to complete homework,says Sharon Aitken, a Cape Town-based educational and child psychologist.

But don’t plunge in as soon as the kids get home from school, she adds – they need some downtime to unwind before starting with their
homework as they’ve already spent most of their day in a classroom. But if they’ve been doing extramural activities, that counts as downtime – so once they get home they can get straight to work.

It’s never a good idea to have children stay up late at night doing homework, especially if they’re in the foundation phase (Grades 1-3).

“Homework needs to be finished at least an hour be-fore bedtime,” Aitken says.

This is because it can take children between 30 minutes and an hour to switch off so they’re able to fall asleep.

Your role as a parent

All the experts we spoke to agree: a parent’s help is essential. During the foundation phase you’ll need to be especially involved as you help your child to develop work and study techniques.

So for the first few years you’re going to have to be prepared to put in plenty of hours, but the good news is it should get better after Grade 3.

Beryl Lello, an educational psychologist from KwaZulu-Natal, believes parents can start to ease off a bit once their kids hit the intermediate phase. But how do you go about getting them to do it on their own? Lello says the best way is to let them do their homework alone and help only when they approach you.

“Respond to emails at the table while they’re working or keep busy. That way you can keep an eye on them without actively helping them.”

She says even before the intermediate stage you can encourage your child to start taking responsibility. A chalk-board, whiteboard or diary makes it easy for them to list their homework for the day and projects for the week.

But once kids hit Grade 4 that doesn’t mean you can wash your hands of home-work entirely. Even if your child goes to aftercare where there’s homework supervision it’s still important to check everything has been done.

Although it’s not necessary to continue working through each subject with your kids on a daily basis after Grade 3, you need to keep tabs on them.

How to deal with tattered nerves

Your child is frantic. They have a maths worksheet due tomorrow and as you check their work you realise they still don’t have a clue how to do algebra. Now it’s up to you to help them – only problem is they’re so worked up they’re incapable of listening to you. How can you get through to them?

The first step is to move your child away from the work and allow them time to calm down, advises Melanie Hartgill, an educational psychologist based in Johannesburg.
“A panicking child doesn’t always listen to reason.” 

Give them a snack or something to drink. Once they’re relaxed, discuss what the problems are.

Seek help on the internet or in a textbook or call a friend.

If all else fails, it’s best to be honest with the teacher. “Write a note explaining why the work hasn’t been completed and ask for help,” Hartgill recommends.

What if your child is simply overwhelmed because they have no idea where to begin?

Help them to break the task into manageable chunks.

Set timers or alarms to monitor progress or breaks.

Where's the best place?

“A child should have as few distractions as possible while working,” says educational psychologist Melanie Hartgill.

While it might be impossible to create a totally noise-free environ­ment, parents need to ensure there aren’t any distractions such as cell­ phones, TVs and radios nearby.

Hartgill suggests the dining room table because a bedroom setting might cause a child to become sleepy.

When parents go too far

It’s tempting to just tell your child what to write down in their classwork book so you can get done, but in the long run you won’t be doing them any favours.

“Parents should always let the child do as much as they can alone,” educational psychologist Melanie Hartgill says.

There’s a big difference between helping your child when they struggle and doing the homework for them. Parents know if they’ve crossed the line, educational and child psychologist Sharon Aitken says.

It’s your job to help reinforce what your child has learnt in class.

“If an actively involved parent notices that their child has repeatedly got a question wrong, they need to establish whether it’s a methodology problem,”she says.

“If that’s the case and the child consistently makes the same error you need to contact the teacher.”

Making it fun

There are ways to make homework less of chore.

Here are educational psychologists Melanie Hartgill and Sharon Aitken’s tips:

Have your kids watch a video on a topic they’re struggling to grasp. There’s an array of fascinating videos on You-Tube that cover a variety of topics.

Create catchy songs for the times tables or periodic table.

Incentivise homework.Reward your kids after they’ve completed the homework of a subject they struggle with.